The Allegan boys' tennis team shows off its state championship trophy. (Photo provided)

Allegan tennis claims first-ever state crown

By: 
Jason Wesseldyk

Some things are worth waiting for.
A state championship is one of those.
Nearly seven hours after completing its final match of the Division 4 state finals, the Allegan boys’ tennis team could finally celebrate the first state title in program history as it shared the crown with Hackett Catholic.
The Tigers and Hackett each finished the tournament—which was played at Hope College on Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19—with 21 points.
Prior to this season, the best showing for the Allegan boys’ team was third place, while the Allegan girls’ program has had multiple runner-up showings.
“There have been so much time and work that has happened year after year after year in Allegan,” Allegan co-coach Jen Aldrich said. “This championship represents all of the coaches over the years who have sacrificed their time for the program. It represents all of the players who have worked so hard year after year. It represents the parents that have given their time, support and energy for the teams. This championship was a long time coming.”
It was even longer, as the Tigers had to wait for the outcome of a No. 3 singles semifinal between Hackett and Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard—which was moved to the evening—to see if they’d be co-champs or runners-up.
After falling behind 3-0 in the first set, Gabriel Richard’s Rafid Farjo rallied to win the next six games to take the set 6-3. He then took the second set by the same score, meaning Hackett was locked in at 21 points and Allegan had a share of the title.
“It was a very thrilling hour and a half,” Aldrich said of the semifinal match. “It was a roller coaster. When the final point was played, our team ran outside to celebrate. We knew we had to show class since it involved two opposing teams, but the celebration outside of the club will definitely be a highlight of my coaching career.”
And while he is no longer at the helm of the Allegan program after retiring last year, longtime Allegan coach Gary Ellis’ fingerprints were all over the championship.
“Make no mistake, this state championship is all about Gary Ellis,” Allegan co-coach Seth Arthur said. “He put 45 years into this. This program is his program. Without ‘G,’ none of us are here coaching and none of our players are playing.
“Coach Aldrich and I just felt obligated to make sure the program stayed on a path toward success, to ensure that what he built remained great. ‘G’ knows how much respect and admiration I have for him. He still is my coach and mentor. I was grateful that we could bring the trophy home for him.”
The championship featured one flight title for the Tigers, with Eli Festerling taking top honors at No. 4 singles.
A freshman, Festerling entered the tournament seeded first and won all of his matches in straight sets, including a 6-4, 6-2 decision over University Liggett’s Gerry Sherer in the finals.
“Eli had an outstanding freshman year,” Arthur said. “He is a conference, regional and state champion.  He dominated the state tournament in his flight. I was proud of the way he played in the finals. Nobody had an answer for Eli’s game in the four-singles position.”
“He is such a steady and competitive player,” Aldrich said of Festerling. “He waits patiently for his opponent to make the mistake and that’s exactly what happened in the finals. It’s quite entertaining to also watch the opposing coaches get frustrated and they eventually just throw their hands in the air because they know Eli will never miss.”
The No. 3 doubles team of Noah Festerling and Ben Groth were the other finalists for Allegan, dropping a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 decision to NorthPointe Christian in the finals.
The other three doubles teams—No. 1 Jack Nahikian and Korbin Sisson, No. 2 Owen Clearwater and Walker Michaels and No. 4 David Roark and Chase Williams—all reached the semifinals.
No. 1 singles Tyler Aldrich made it to the quarterfinals, while No. 2 singles Tim Lyon won his opening-round match.
“The wonderful thing about this championship is that it was a complete team effort,” Arthur said. “If any one of our guys would have dropped a match, we would have lost it. 
“Tyler Aldrich did a great job at one singles to grab two points for the team. All of our seniors grabbed points. Our doubles all getting to the semi-finals—and three doubles making the final—was crucial, as, of course, was Eli winning his flight.”
The championship caps a season that saw the Tigers ranked first in Division 4 throughout the campaign.
“To be honest, we all felt the pressure (of being ranked first) all season,” Aldrich said. “That goes for players and the coaches. I think it made winning that much sweeter though. We were able to show everyone that we could handle the pressure.”
 

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